It got chilly on the beach at night. Cold sand between my toes made me shiver. I got up and threw another log on the fire.
“I can’t believe summer is almost over,” Eva said. She snuggled closer to her boyfriend, Evan.
“The sooner, the better,” said Andy. She flipped her curly blond hair in her haughty way. “We’ve gotten soft during the summer.”
“Flo was on her honeymoon part of the time,” I pointed out. Flo was our trainer and head virago—woman warrior—which meant she was pretty much our boss.
“We still should have worked out every day,” Andy said sternly. “Instead of spending all our time at the beach.”
“We played volleyball and ran on the sand,” Raven said. “That’s still working out.” Raven was petite with dark hair. She’d grown it out this summer, and it hung down her back in a long braid. She didn’t look anything like her brother, Dominic, who was tall and blond. He resembled his aunt Katrina and his mom, but I knew from photos that Raven looked like her dad.
Dominic stared at the fire. “I can’t believe it’s my senior year.”
I had to bite my lip to keep from blurting out that I didn’t want to talk about it. Senior year and then what? He’d go off to college or move to LA to make it in the music business or something and we’d be over.
He glanced at my face and seemed to read some of what I was feeling, because he added, “I don’t want to think about tomorrow. I just want to enjoy tonight.”
He ran a hand through his hair, which had become even blonder over the summer.
“Not me,” Andy said. “I can’t wait for senior year to start. The sooner it starts, the sooner it’s done and I can get to the good stuff.”
The “good stuff” for Andy usually involved kicking someone’s or something’s butt. The town of Nightshade had been surprisingly quiet lately, so she was spoiling for a fight.
“School doesn’t start until Monday,” Raven said. “We have the whole weekend. And look at that moon!”
I craned my neck to look, and leaned back into Domi nic, who put his arms around me. The crescent moon was obscured by a heavy fog.
“Jessica, do you hear that?” Andy asked. “Hear what?”
“That thumping noise.”
“Sounds like something running,” Raven said.
The “something” came into view. A ghostly white horse raced along the sand, hooves thundering as it went. Its eyes glowed red as it let out an ear-splitting whinny, and I was immobilized by a sickly dread. The whirlwind tattoo on my arm that alerted me of danger didn’t just tingle. It burned.
A second later, the horse vanished.
“That was awesome,” Eva breathed. “Reminds me of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow—except without the Headless Horseman.” My best friend was a big horror movie fan and budding filmmaker.
Dominic shivered and said, “I always wondered what paralyzing fear felt like. Now I know.”
I nudged him. “I thought you never got scared.”
“I do now,” he said. “That was freaky.” He picked up his guitar and strummed it shakily. A familiar blank look passed over his face, and then the first lyrics of “Wild Horses” came out of his mouth.
When the song ended, everyone stared at him. “Is that a new one?” Andy asked.
Raven rolled her eyes. “It was a Rolling Stones song, from like when your grandparents were kids.”
“I’ve never played that before in my life,” Dominic said.
My boyfriend was a seer who made predictions through song. They were usually warnings or clues to mysteries we needed to solve. Something was definitely up.
Andy’s dad came to check on us. “How’s it going?” he asked. “Ready to head up to the house?” Andy and her dad lived in a cute place overlooking the beach.
“Al-almost,” Andy said.
“You look like you’ve all seen a ghost,” her dad said. He quickly realized he might have sounded tactless, and tried backtracking. “Sorry. I can’t believe I just said that after what happened.”
What had happened was that a few months ago, we’d found a dead body in the cave on the beach. The cave had been barricaded shortly thereafter.
Since then, we had to beg our parents, repeatedly, to let us have a bonfire on the beach. They’d only let us because we’d agreed to chaperones—plural. My parents were taking a walk down the beach, but my guess was they’d be back in a minute or two.
“We were telling ghost stories,” I finally said. I wasn’t going to mention that we’d just seen a ghostly horse. They’d lock us in our rooms and throw away the keys, even though half of our little group were viragoes.
Dominic kissed me on my forehead. “It’s almost time to go anyway,” he said. “How about if I give you a ride home? I want to play you my new song.”
“What about me?” Raven said kiddingly.
“I thought you were spending the night here,” Andy said, then realized that Raven was just messing with her brother.
“Let me check with my parents,” I said to Dominic. “They’ve been protective lately.” I couldn’t really blame them. My parents were usually pretty laid back, because they had a lot of kids to keep track of. Eight, to be exact. I had one older brother and six younger sisters.
Mom and Dad walked back to the bonfire holding hands. “It’s such a gorgeous night,” Mom said.
They obviously hadn’t seen the red-eyed demon horse or she wouldn’t be saying that.
“Mrs. Walsh, is it okay if Jessica comes over to my house for an hour or two?” Dominic asked.
She gave him a long, considering look that moms always seem to have in their arsenal.
“My mom will be there,” he added quickly.
“Is Lydia staying in Nightshade long?” Dad asked.
It was doubtful. Dominic’s mom was a virago, like me, only she didn’t protect just one town. Lydia Gray was a freelance virago, on call wherever she was needed most, which meant she spent a lot of time away from her family. Dominic and Raven lived with their aunt.
Dominic shrugged. “I think her plans are uncertain right now. She travels a lot for business.”
“And what business is that?” Mom asked. I shot her a stop-being-nosy look, but she ignored me. My parents, along with most of Nightshade, were unaware of the existence of viragoes protecting the town from danger.
“We’d better get going,” I said.
Dominic grabbed our guitars and we walked toward his car.
“So senior year, huh?”
“Yep,” he said. “That’s kind of what my new song is about.”
“No, after senior year.”
“You want me to listen to a song about you leaving me?”
He pulled me close. “We’ll talk every day.” My relationship with Dominic was just starting to feel like something I could count on, but I knew I couldn’t. My brother, Sean, and his girlfriend, Samantha, were still together, despite doing the long-distance thing during college, but they were an exception. I wasn’t sure Dominic and I would be.
“What about college?” I asked.
“I’m taking a year off,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Side Effects May Vary is going on tour.”
“You’re going to be on tour for a whole year?” I couldn’t keep the alarm out of my voice.
“Not the whole time,” he admitted. “But I will be gone a lot.” Side Effects May Vary had won the Battle of the Bands a few months ago and the grand prize was a recording contract with Cranky Kitten Records.
I waited, but Dominic didn’t say anything else for a long moment.
“What do you think?” he finally said.
“Does it matter?” I snapped. “Sounds like you have it all planned out already.”
“Jess, don’t be like that,” he said softly. “Like what?”
I sighed. “I’m not mad. Just disappointed,” I said. “But I’ll try to make the best of it.”
We made the drive to his house in silence.
Katrina, his aunt, had a little bungalow with a swing on the front porch. Dominic pulled into the driveway.
“Can you do me a favor?” he asked.
“Don’t mention the tour to my mom,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to her about it yet.”
“Okay,” I said. “It’s not like your mom and I have long chats anyway.” Truth was, Lydia Gray avoided me and I wasn’t sure why.
The house was dark. “It looks like we have the place to ourselves,” Dominic said. He gave me a long kiss, not bothering to turn on a light.
Which is why I jumped about a foot when light flooded the room.
Dominic’s mom stood there, next to a tall brunette girl with smoky blue eyes.
“Tash!” Dominic said. “What are you doing here?” “Surprising you, of course,” she replied. “Can’t a girl surprise her boyfriend?”
Dominic grabbed my hand as I tried to step away from him. I resisted, but he brought me to his side anyway. “Tashya, it’s ex-girlfriend and you know it. This is Jessica, my girlfriend. Jessica, this is Tashya Bennington. We used to go out when we were sophomores back at my old school.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. I held out my hand but she ignored me. I had no doubt she saw the kiss and heard Dominic call me his girlfriend, but she was pretending to be oblivious.
She turned to Dominic’s mom. “Mrs. Gray, I’m starving. Is there anywhere to eat in this town?” Her tone made it apparent she didn’t think much of Nightshade, and I bristled.
“I’ll fix you something,” Mrs. Gray said. “You had a long drive.”
They went into the kitchen without Tashya even acknowledging me.
“Nice to meet you, Tashya,” I called after her, but I didn’t really mean it.
Dominic drew me into a hug. “I don’t know what she’s doing here, but I’m sure she’ll be gone by tomorrow,” he assured me.
But Tashya didn’t go away.